This is your assignment: you must learn about redwood trees. I want you to know that this is crucial for your future. That your success depends on this knowledge and that you will be tested in the near future (notes are not allowed). Ready? Go.
I’m serious… go! We’ll wait… you can finish reading the blog once you’re a redwood expert.
Okay, you done?
Great! So what did you do? Given the huge and dedicated fan base reading this blog regularly, we’re guessing that most of you probably signed up for a Trees of the Pacific Coast class through continuing ed, bought a Sibley Guide to Pacific Coast Trees, called a redwoods expert at Humboldt State University to ask lots of questions, and searched the web for facts and details about these monstrous trees. Good work! I’m guessing you can now tell me all about the old growth forests, all the properties of these forest giants, and perhaps even the tree’s Latin name.
Do you feel like that effort was beneficial? Do you understand now why this knowledge is critical for your life and success in the future? Are you ready for the test?
I’m not! HOLY MOLY! I’ve been in the redwoods for almost a week now and I don’t understand all of the trees’ properties and I just had to ask Brandon to tell me the Latin name because it slipped out of my brain while I was sleeping.
But let me share with you how I learned about the redwoods. First, I rode onto the Redwood Highway on my bicycle, off Highway 101. You wouldn’t believe how the light changed as we suddenly became tiny chess pieces in a city of forest skyscrapers! Our gazes lifted from the road to the treetops, hundreds of feet above, and our mouths dropped open. Glorious!
We had to pull over to touch the monstrous trees. First we just took pictures in front of them and then we tried to climb on their thick, deep red bark. Little pieces peeled off into our hands and we felt their stringy, fibrous texture. Moving our faces closer to smell the tree, we noticed green lichen with tiny red speckles growing on the tree’s skin and touched that too, positing that the lichen lives off moisture in the foggy air.
Climbing up the Redwood Highway further, we decided to sleep amongst the trees rather than seeking out a formal campground (many are now closed). We pulled off the road and trenched into the dense forest. That night, we slept amongst the trees’ thick windy roots and listened to the depth of silence between the passing cars. Here is what is sounded like:
The Sound of the Redwoods
(what you hear around 2:15 and after is the sound of passing cars)
When we awoke in the morning, we found ourselves gazing up at a patchwork quilt of green, with redwood needles high in the background and the larger green leaves of the rhododendron and willow trees closer down. Prehistoric-esque ferns surrounded us on the ground.
The next day we embarked on a hike and sensory quest in the Redwood National Forest. We found ourselves exploring the inside of giant hollow redwoods (many of them still alive), breathing deeply to inhale the smell of the forest, climbing up on huge stumps and long, fallen redwood logs and listening carefully to the creaks of the trees in the wind. Sometimes we stopped and sat down and closed our eyes and just focused on ourselves and how we felt in that space, in the depths of the redwood forest… a truly humbling experience.
We started imagining what life must have been like for the native people born in these woods. If I was born among redwoods, I would praise them as gods. I would probably grow up understanding myself as just one small (but integral) piece of an ecosystem much bigger than me. At night we read more about the redwoods in Stephen Arno’s book about Pacific Coast trees and wrote reflections of our day in our journals.
Yesterday, we had the opportunity to climb up high into a redwood, with friends we met in Arcata, CA. It was an exhilarating experience to see the world as the treetops do. I will never look at a redwood again without noticing the strength of each visible branch (the living branches are, not surprisingly, much stronger than the dead ones!).
So how about you test me? Ask me some questions about the redwood trees and I am sure I will not have memorized most of the answers. Do you think that’s okay? Do you think I will be a failure?
Let’s start thinking about education more holistically. Let’s recognize the power of sensory exploration, the learning experience in every adventure, and the joy found through the visceral pursuit of curiosity.
Sorry, but there’s no test.